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Q: What are pros and cons of circumcising my baby's penis?

A: Opinions about circumcision are mixed. For some parents, circumcision is a religious ritual. It can also be a matter of family tradition, personal hygiene or preventive health care. For others, however, the procedure seems unnecessary or disfiguring.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says the benefits aren't strong enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns. The AAP leaves the decision up to parents — and supports use of pain relief for infants who have the procedure.

Benefits:

  • Easier hygiene: Circumcision makes it easy to wash the penis — although it's simple to clean an uncircumcised penis, too.
  • Decreased risk of urinary tract infections: The risk of urinary tract infections in the first year is low, but these infections may be up to 10 times as common in uncircumcised baby boys. Severe infections early in life can lead to kidney problems later on.
  • Prevention of penile problems: Occasionally, the foreskin on an uncircumcised penis may narrow so much that it's difficult or impossible to retract. This can also lead to inflammation of the head of the penis.
  • Decreased risk of penile cancer: Although cancer of the penis is very rare, it's less common in circumcised men.
  • Decreased risk of sexually transmitted diseases: Safe sexual practices remain essential, but circumcised men may have a slightly lower risk of certain sexually transmitted diseases — including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts. Some strains of HPV also cause cervical cancer.
  • Decreased risk of prostate, liver, and stomach cancer.

Drawbacks:

  • Surgical risks: Excessive bleeding and infection are uncommon, but possible. The foreskin may be cut too short or too long, or fail to heal properly. If the remaining foreskin reattaches to the end of the penis, minor surgery may be needed to correct it.
  • Pain: Circumcision may hurt without adequate anesthesia. Local anesthesia can block nerve sensations during the procedure but may have its own risks.
  • Permanence: After the procedure, it may be impossible to re-create the appearance of an uncircumcised penis.
  • Other things to consider: Circumcision shouldn't be done when a baby's urethral opening is in an abnormal position on the side or base of the penis. This condition is treated surgically and may require the foreskin for repair. Circumcision may not be an option in an infant with ambiguous genitalia or a family history of hemophilia.

Keep In Mind: Circumcision doesn't affect fertility. Whether the procedure enhances or detracts from sexual pleasure for men or their partners remains unknown.